What I’ve learnt from the mistakes I’ve made this year

Making mistakes is easy, it’s what you learn from them that matters. As the year draws to an end it’s time to reflect on what’s happened, take stock and look forward to 2023.

Secret MarketerAs the river of life rushes past us, in a torrent of new challenges and campaigns, it’s inevitable that mistakes happen and failure occurs, alongside the delight of achieving great success and enviable triumph. While it is natural to dwell on the past, the truth is the water of our efforts has literally gone under the bridge. There is a maxim that ‘no one ever treads in the same river twice’. I wish I’d known that earlier in my career.

As we approach the end of the year, I have been reflecting on some unforced errors I have made at work this year. Not to wallow in despair, but to understand what not to do next time around. These were real clangers, where all the wheels fell off simultaneously. But they were also errors so basic, every marketer – no matter how experienced – should seek to avoid them. In the words of Chris de Burgh: “I should have known better”.

Match ambition with capability

Having modernised our brand identity earlier in the year, we set about developing a major brand building campaign. It was always going to be a tough gig as the brand proposition was nascent and the teams all new. In this instance my insouciance to the capability of our incumbent agency partners led directly to the right brief going to the wrong agency.

Having lost three months persevering with ever more misery, we ended up starting again, going to market four months later with a different creative partner. It was a hugely ambitious brief that needed a hugely ambitious agency partner. We should have tendered to get the right capability on board from the outset, despite the cries of anguish from our friends in procurement.

Why failure helps create better marketers

Don’t stay the course too long

We knew the work wasn’t good enough. We knew the agency didn’t have the strategic or creative sharps to meet the task, but we kept on going, getting ever flatter, never getting past the headline into the meat of the proposition.

Embarrassingly for me, it took my rather exasperated boss (no marketer there) to wonder why I kept on briefing the same thing to the same agency and expecting a different answer.

Sometimes you need to cut your losses and move on. In this case I let things drag on too long. There was a definite argument for being more brutal, earlier. It was a classic case of needing to be cruel to be kind. Perhaps the great success of the brand refresh earlier in the year had clouded my judgment? Had I let hubris creep in? I don’t know. Either way, I equivocated too long and lost my ability to see the wood from the trees. I should have resolved things much earlier. Definitely one to watch in the future.

You’re only as good as your last campaign

Talking about the weight of expectation from past successes leading to unforced errors, I find myself perplexed by John Lewis’s latest Christmas effort. The craft that has gone into the film is delightful. It’s perfectly calibrated. As a piece of production it’s close to flawless. But, it is also upliftingly miserable. I’m slightly disappointed Morrissey didn’t do the sound track. Oh for the escapism and joy of trampolining dogs.

Taking things forward

Like many other teams, mine is now focused on finessing our plan for 2023. We’ve a lot to learn from this year and much to do in the future. We’ve taken a different approach too. Taking a leaf out of Ritson’s Mini MBA-underwritten book, we have followed a zero-based budgeting approach. Having hoovered up everyone’s spare cash, we’ve built a case to spend 50% more than 2022’s budget in order to shift our brand metrics 100% more than this year. Who knows, I may be writing some more Redundancy Chronicles this time next year.

As the cost of living crisis spirals it’s time for marketers to go back to basics

Still, all of this is just one more surge of water on the tideway, as the river of marketing magic moves ever onwards, through our cost of living Christmas and into the choppy headwinds of 2023. There’s no point dwelling on the past, and my goodness 2023 may be deeply reminiscent of 2009, when post credit crunch, we found ourselves in the unchartered waters of austerity Britain. At least I know what my New Year’s resolution will be: learn to swim better.

Happy Christmas.